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Betty Wisdom interview, Part 09
Rogers, Kim Lacy
Rogers begins the interview by asking Betty Wisdom about how she came to learn of segregation, and she answers that as a child she remembered her family's domestic cook stating that she could not vote and she asked her father explained that African Americans had a difficult time registering to vote. She describes how her tenure on the board of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans in the 1950s further awakened her to Civil rights causes, as well as the mentorship of her aunt Rosa Keller. Wisdom continues to discuss her family background as well as being brought up with the strong belief that one person could make a difference. She explains that after her divorce her uncle suggested that she would then need to be more involved in the community. Wisdom continues that her family anticipated her involvement would be more with "genteel Republican things" such as the symphony and women's organizations instead of her more progressive political work with Adlai Stevenson's campaign and local school board elections, in addition to many other causes. She adds that this was on top of her full time employment until 1960. Wisdom overviews her work with Save Our Schools (SOS), including the several threats of violence she was confronted with. Though she never truly feared for her safety, for Wisdom a bigger fear was "turning people off" through her activism, her own family in particular. When asked how she came to be interested in such activism, she answers that it was primarily through her friend Jack Sledge as well as through attending college at Mount Holyoke. Sledge "made [Wisdom] see outside of the world I was born in." Wisdom describes SOS as a cause that united people of different backgrounds around an important cause. She details how she testified in front of the state legislature against pro-segregationist bills and discusses McCarthyism in New Orleans, particularly the raiding of a local office of the Southern Conference Educational Fund. She also explains why SOS was an all-White organization, in part by design, though the organization worked interracially with other organizations. Wisdom continues to overview other work, including campaign work, principally as an office volunteer and a donor. She names Lolis Elie and his wife as her closest African American friends. She also overviews her work on the board of the ACLU, discussing targeted police violence against gays in New Orleans as well as race-based violence from police. Wisdom then talks about serving on the board of the League of Women Voters, which she joined after the organization desegregated. Wisdom discusses the desegregation of New Orleans public schools in more detail, describing a student protest at Junior University of New Orleans (JUNO) on St. Charles Avenue where students threw furniture out of the window to protest deplorable conditions at the school, including the absence of their teachers for several days and incompetent and corrupt school leadership. She also goes into great detail about neighborhood opposition to the Audubon Zoo. She talks about a close relationship with Sybil Morial while working with her on New Orleans parks. She explains how disagreement with Dutch Morial over how the Audubon Zoo would be administered led to their falling out. Wisdom also describes the political views of her parents.
Amistad Research Center
Box 8, Item 22, Side 1, Kim Lacy Rogers collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
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